Martin Luther King Drive, which has become a haven for bicyclists, walkers, and runners since its March 2020 closure, will reopen to weekday car traffic in early August.
The announcement came during a City Council budget hearing Monday and amid a debate between those yearning for more open space in the city and those fed up with increased traffic on alternative routes. MLK Drive will still be closed on weekends for recreational use through the end of October, a city spokesperson said.
Councilmember Curtis Jones told Streets Commissioner Carlton Williams during Monday’s hearing that he had just one question: “When is Martin Luther King Drive opening up?”
His constituents, he said, had bombarded him with that question. People living in nearby neighborhoods rely on the drive to bypass traffic jams on the Schuylkill Expressway.
Randy LoBasso, the policy director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, had hoped the city would “reimagine” MLK Drive. More than 5,400 people have signed a petition urging Mayor Jim Kenney to consider two proposals — a permanent closure to cars or a shared roadway — in order to prioritize access for everyone, not just motorists.
The drive has grown in popularity during the pandemic as more people sought safer, outdoor activities. LoBasso said that while a permanent closure would ensure that this influx of people continued to have enough space to exercise, he recognized it was unlikely.
He said that’s why his organization also proposed a shared roadway, in which MLK Drive would be divided in half with a barrier, creating one area for pedestrians and cyclists and a second for vehicles.
“I hope that there is still a chance that the city would consider bringing stakeholders together to figure out the best configuration of the drive,” LoBasso said.
A city spokesperson said this decision was made “based on consultation with City Council and the progress of our infrastructure projects including improvements to the recreational trail, and upgrades to lighting and upcoming paving.”
Still, a city spokesperson said, “opportunities to extend these closures are being explored.”